by Holly Walker
The bill would establish a statutory register of lobbyists, and require anyone paid to lobby MPs, Ministers, and their staff to file quarterly returns. It would also allow the Auditor General to develop a code of ethics for lobbyists and empower her to investigate alleged breaches of that code.
It is based on the principle that the public have a right to know who is lobbying MPs about what, but also acknowledges that lobbying is a legitimate activity that can help to inform MPs and contribute to good decision-making. The intention is simply to make that activity more transparent.
The AG’s report is a useful contribution to the discussion about the bill, and adds to the considerable feedback I have had from the wide range of stakeholders I’ve been meeting with since the bill was pulled from the ballot just before Easter.
I must say I was disappointed to see that the AG thinks the bill restricts freedom of expression. Access to MPs is an important part of our democratic system and something we are particularly good at in New Zealand. The bill does not seek to restrict that access or expression in any way – merely to enable reporting on it. I don’t accept the premise of the AG’s report that the bill is necessarily a restriction to freedom of expression.
Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that he considers transparency an important objective. The crux of his argument is simply that the bill’s scope is too wide, that it would inadvertently capture too many people in the definition of lobbyist, to justify the perceived restriction.
Fortunately that’s feedback I’ve had from other people as well, and it’s one of the things I’ve flagged that I’m hoping to explore and address at the Government Administration Select Committee if the bill passes its first reading. I get on very well with my colleagues on that committee, and I’m confident that we can address the issue of scope and definition that the AG has identified in his report.
I’m very excited about the opportunity to steer my first member’s bill through this process, and am looking forward to scrutinising the bill based on the feedback I’ve received in order to make sure that it is workable and practical, while still achieving the core purpose of bringing a much-needed measure of transparency to lobbying activity in New Zealand.
Free and open access to Government is an important matter of public interest, and the public have a right to know who is engaged in lobbying activities. I’m confident we can achieve a Lobbying Disclosure regime that satisfies both of these conditions.